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UCD School of Physics

Scoil na Fisice UCD

Michael Perryman

Adjunct Professor, School of Physics, University College Dublin



      • general: space astrometry, exoplanets, Galactic structure, optical instrumentation and detectors


      • astrometry: my scientific career has been focused on the development of space astrometry, as scientific leader of ESA's Hipparcos (1981–1997) and Gaia (1993–2007) satellite missions.


      • Hipparcos: the first space experiment dedicated to astrometry, Hipparcos provided many conceptual as well as technical challenges. Freeman Dyson (Infinite In All Directions, 1988) stated: 'Hipparcos is the first time since Sputnik in 1957 that a major new development in space science has come from outside the United States'. I was appointed project scientist when the programme was accepted by ESA in 1981, and served in that role until catalogue publication in 1997. I led the recovery of the mission when the satellite failed to reach geostationary altitude after launch by Ariane 4 from French Guiana on 8 August 1989 (a task lasting four years), on which Arnold Wolfendale (Astronomer Royal) commented in 1993: 'The dedication and skill shown by your colleagues and yourself in rescuing this mission and going on to produce such superb results will go down in the history of space science'. Ultimately, Hipparcos provided not only the most accurate star positions and distances but also, significantly, the largest improvement factor in the history of the field, exceeding (for example) that achieved by Tycho Brahe. The resulting Hipparcos catalogue is one of the most highly-cited works in astronomy.


      • Gaia: Gaia is only the second space astrometry mission developed and launched, despite many attempted national initiatives (in US, Russia, Germany, and Japan). I was its co-originator with Lennart Lindegren (Lund) in 1993, and in the subsequent 15 years led the development of its scientific, technical, and data processing aspects (as study scientist until acceptance in 2000, and thereafter project scientist until 2007). Programme highlights were negotiating its acceptance by the ESA Science Programme Committee in 2000, establishing the structure and principles of the data processing (a particular challenge was enabling implementation of the global iterative solution), helping to co-opt a core of highly talented scientists to key positions within the project, and successfully maintaining its development schedule leading to the launch by Soyuz-Fregat from French Guiana on 19 December 2013. One major disappointment was seeing the progressive degradation of the scientific performance after selection (from 10 µas at 15 mag at acceptance in 2000, to 15 µas in 2002, and 20 µas in 2005).


      • exoplanets: Hipparcos has had a very significant influence, amongst others, on the knowledge of the properties of exoplanet host stars. I made the first assessment of Gaia's contribution to the detection and characterisation of exoplanets (and made the most detailed re-assessment to date in 2015), considering it as of tremendous importance to the field: for host star properties, for new astrometric detections (many thousands) and perhaps a thousand or more transit detections, and for the characterisation of multiple planet coplanarity. This interest led to my broadreview of the emerging field of exoplanets, undertaken during a visit to ESO in 2000. During an extended visit to Heidelberg at the invitation of the directors of the University and Max Planck Institutes in 2010, I prepared an updated and extensive overview of our present knowledge, The Exoplanet Handbook, published by Cambridge University Press in April 2011 (and winner of the 2012 PROSE Award for scholarly excellence in the category of Cosmology and Astronomy).


      • optical detectors: as a research fellow in ESA in 1980–1981, I worked on a ground-based version of the Faint Object Camera, an optical photon counting system for the Hubble Space Telescope. Measuring the properties of individual optical photons has long intrigued me, with the eye – based on the torsional isomerisation of rhodopsin – being a particularly fascinating example. Searching for a better solution led me, in 1993 (and together with ESA colleagues Clare Foden and Tone Peacock), to identify superconductors as the first (and still the only) physical principle capable of measuring individual optical photon energies directly, without the use of filters or spectrographs. Remarkably, the detection quantum efficiency of superconducting detectors approaches unity across the ultraviolet-to-near infrared range. It approximates the ideal optical detector, with a series of demonstrated astronomical results (see below), although practical implementation remains difficult. The same fundamental detection technology has since been used in Transition Edge Sensors and in the promising development of ARCONS.


      • outreach: scientists are encouraged to communicate their work to the public, who ultimately fund their advances. The problem is not an easy one to tackle, especially for such a seemingly arcane (albeit absolutely fundamental) subject as positional astronomy. I am conscious of the large costs of space missions, and felt that the subject merited a specific effort to communicate. I used stereoscopic projections based on polarised light to illustrate the three-dimensional distributions of stars in space for the George Darwin Lecture to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1998 and, to an audience of more than a thousand, for the IAU Invited Discourse in Manchester in 2000. My popular account of the Hipparcos mission, The Making of History's Greatest Star Map, was published in 2010.


      • scientific project management: my experience as the scientific leader of two very large space missions, and to a lesser extent (and from the outside) of other big scientific projects in Europe, underlines that little formal attention is given to the training of scientists in (project) management, which many astronomers go on to contribute to. Proactive leadership, as well as other mandatory qualities and fortuitous circumstances, are pre-requisites for success – as measured by the triple metric of scientific performance, schedule, and cost. It is a challenge to transfer experience of 'soft skills' like management, but lessons and skills can be passed on, and such attempts seem to me to be worthwhile. I have given tutorials at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg (February 2011), to a combined UCD/Trinity College group (June 2012), to the Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton (November 2013), and as part of an MSc course in Space Science and Technology at UCD (March 2014 and January 2015).



      • 1976–1980: PhD, Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge (advisor Malcolm Longair)
      • 1973–1976: BA, Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge


      • 2014: Källén Seminar for Breakthrough Discoveries, University of Lund (S)
      • 2013: Bohdan PaczyƄski Visiting Professor, Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University (US)
      • 2013–present: Adjunct Professor, School of Physics, University College Dublin (IRL)
      • 2011–2012: Visiting Professor, Astrophysics Group, School of Physics, University of Bristol (UK)
      • 2010 (Jan–Dec): Distinguished Visitor, University of Heidelberg and Max Planck Institute of Astronomy, Heidelberg (D)
      • 1993–2009: Professor, Department of Astronomy, University of Leiden (NL)
      • 1980–2009: Research scientist, European Space Agency, Noordwijk (NL)


      • 2014–2015: Senior Advisor, CARMENES exoplanet consortium
      • 2013–2014: Rapporteur to the President, Max Planck Society (Chemistry, Physics and Technology Section)
      • 2000–2009: Senior Advisor, European Space Agency
      • 1999–2005: Head of Astronomy Research, Space Science Department, European Space Agency
      • 1995–2007: Project Scientist, Gaia space astrometry mission, European Space Agency
      • 1989–1993: Project Manager, operational phase of the Hipparcos mission
      • 1981–1997: Project Scientist, Hipparcos space astrometry mission, European Space Agency


      • 2016–present: European Space Sciences Committee (European Science Foundation)
      • 2015: Visiting Committee, Leibniz Association: AIP (Potsdam) and Kiepenheuer-Institut für Sonnenphysik (Freiburg)
      • 2014–2016: Chair, ESA-L3 Gravitational Observatory Advisory Team (GOAT)
      • 2014–2015: Space Sciences Programme Secretary, European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC)
      • 2014: Panel member, ESO VLTI–PRIMA (microarcsec astrometry) 'gate' review
      • 2011: Advisory committee, National Science Foundation
      • 2008–present: Council, Zentrum für Astronomie der Universität (ZAH), Heidelberg
      • 2007–2012: Haute Comité Scientifique de l'Observatoire de Paris
      • 2007–2010: ESO VLT–SPHERE planet finder instrument science team
      • 2007: European Astronet Science Vision panel member
      • 2007: European consultant to US NASA/NSF task force on exoplanets
      • 2007: Deputy chair, ESO Visiting Committee
      • 2007: Consultant, UK Minister of Science strategy forum
      • 2007: UK–STFC exoplanet strategic board
      • 2005–2010: Editorial Board, Astronomy & Astrophysics Reviews
      • 2004–2005: Chair, ESA–ESO Working Group on Extrasolar Planets
      • 2002–2009: Advisory Board, Lorentz Centre, University of Leiden
      • 2000–2004: Council Member, European Astronomical Society
      • 1998–2003: Chair, Instrument Steering Committee for Dutch astronomy (NOVA)
      • 1981–2008: Chair of ESA's space astrometry science teams:
        • 2001–2008: Chair, Gaia Science Team
        • 1995–2000: Chair, Gaia Science Advisory Group
        • 1981–1997: Chair, Hipparcos Science Team


      Some 250 refereed and other publications including:

First author (selected):

      • 2015: Astrometric exoplanet detection with Gaia ADS
      • 2014: The Gaia inertial reference frame and the tumbling Milky Way halo ADS
      • 2012: The history of astrometry ADS
      • 2011: The barycentric motion of exoplanet host stars: tests of solar spin-orbit coupling ADS
      • 2008: A parameter database for large scientific projects: application to the Gaia space astrometry mission ADS
      • 2002: Gaia: an astrometric and photometric survey of our Galaxy ADS
      • 2001: High-speed energy-resolved STJ photometry of the eclipsing binary UZ For ADS
      • 2001: Gaia: composition, formation and evolution of the Galaxy ADS
      • 2000: Extra-solar planets (review) ADS
      • 1999: Optical STJ observations of the Crab pulsar ADS
      • 1998: The Hyades: distance, structure, dynamics, and age ADS
      • 1997: The Hipparcos Catalogue ADS (with >1600 citations, one of the 40 most cited in 40 years of Astronomy & Astrophysics)
      • 1996: Hipparcos distances and mass limits for the planetary candidates: 47 UMa, 70 Vir, and 51 Peg ADS
      • 1995: Parallaxes and the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram for the preliminary Hipparcos solution H30 ADS
      • 1993: Optical photon counting using superconducting tunnel junctions ADS [the first direct determination of optical photon energies]
      • 1991: A second generation photon counting detector ADS

Other (selected):

      • 2006: Absolute timing of the Crab Pulsar at optical wavelengths with superconducting tunneling junctions (Oosterbroek et al.) ADS
      • 2005: Spectroscopic survey of the Galaxy with Gaia. II. The yield from the Radial Velocity Spectrometer (Wilkinson et al.) ADS
      • 2004: Spectroscopic survey of the Galaxy with Gaia. I. Design and performance of the Radial Velocity Spectrometer (Katz et al.) ADS
      • 2003: A concept for a superconducting tunnelling junction based spectrograph (Cropper et al.) ADS
      • 2003: Temperature determination via STJ optical spectroscopy (Reynolds et al.) ADS
      • 2002: Direct determination of quasar redshifts (de Bruijne et al.) ADS
      • 1997: The Hipparcos catalogue as a realisation of the extragalactic reference system (Kovalevsky et al.) ADS
      • 1997: Double star data in the Hipparcos catalogue (Lindegren et al.) ADS
      • 1997: Superconducting tunnel junctions as detectors for ultraviolet, optical, and near infrared astronomy (Peacock et al.) ADS
      • 1996: Single optical photon detection with a superconducting tunnel junction (Peacock et al.) ADS
      • 1995: Zero-point and external errors of Hipparcos parallaxes (Arenou et al.) ADS
      • 1995: Meridian circle reductions using preliminary Hipparcos positions (Requieme et al.) ADS
      • 1994: Absorption in three intrinsically faint quasars: Q 0009–016, Q 0347–241, and Q 2116–358 (Møller et al.) ADS
      • 1985: The ESA photon counting detector: a scientific model for the Faint Object Camera (di Serego Alighieri et al.) ADS


      • 2011: The Exoplanet Handbook: at CUP (with figures available, under resources), reviews at and
      • 2010: The Making of History's Greatest Star Map (a popular account of the Hipparcos mission): at Springer, reviews at
      • 2009: Astronomical Applications of Astrometry: Ten Years of Exploitation of the Hipparcos Satellite Data: at CUP, reviews at
      • 1997: The Hipparcos and Tycho Catalogues (Perryman et al., 17 volumes), European Space Agency SP-1200 ADS (with >1700 citations)
      • 1997: The Millennium Star Atlas (Roger Sinnott & Michael Perryman, 3 volumes), Sky Publishing: at




      • numerous university lectures, seminars, and colloquia (1980–present)
      • various popular and public lectures, mostly on Hipparcos (astrometry) and exoplanets, including planetaria and amateur astronomy societies
      • named lectures:


      • 2011: Tycho Brahe Prize, European Astronomical Society: published lecture
      • 2010: Honorary Doctorate, Lund University (S)
      • 2007: IAU-endorsed naming of minor planet 10969 (full IAU Minor Planet Center name listing)
      • 1999: Academy Medal (jointly with Gerard 't Hooft), Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences, KNAW (NL)
      • 1998: George Darwin Lecture, Royal Astronomical Society (UK)
      • 1997: Prix Adion, Association de Développement Internationale de l'Observatoire de Nice (F)
      • 1996: Prix Jules Janssen (Gold Medal), Société Astronomique de France (F)

Revised: 3 July 2016